In Production - 'The Missing Ingredient' by Sanif Olek

Starring the Malaysian screen legend Dato’ Rahim Razali, along with prolific Singaporean stage and television actors, Aidli ‘Alin’ Mosbit and Rafaat Hj Hamzah, comes an endearing tale of love unexpressed and relationships limited by emotional blockages of the heart. It is a story that uses the metaphor of food and in particular the missing ingredient to allow it to unfold.

What missing ingredient will unite Pak Harun, Murni and Rosli, people from different places, cultures and phases of life – healing these broken hearts …bringing them together to sing the same tune?

Jeremy (J): So tell us what started the idea for The Missing Ingredient?
Sanif (S): At one point of time, many years ago while taking a break from TV work; I was watching a lot of films on food. That set me to reflect upon my own culture to identify which food or dish which was synonymous with the Malay culture. It became an obsession for many weeks. I finally identified ‘Sambal Goreng’. As I was living overseas then, I reflected a lot upon my friends, family and people whom I met. It must have been the blue skies and OZ fish and chips! Assignments aside, there was nothing else to do so I had time to think a lot!

J: It is also a story with a lot of pain and grievances. Want to elaborate more on that?
S: After working in commercial television for more than 10 years (producing & directing), it affected me a lot. In a way, as an "artiste", I felt "shortchanged" in a way that realism is being substituted for a rather superficial representation of what we are (especially what is being represented in my community). In some cases over-representation of what's "cool" at that point. Moreover, there was/is a lot of manipulation. I guess TMI is a cathartic result of that whole process.

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J: Do you mean how films in general portray Malays?
S: Both television films and dramas. For a short period, I was working in current affairs too so I had an experience or two about manipulation. Although I did not enjoy the experience, it was a good eye-opener! Everyone should try! Besides, it is all about maintaining the status quo although I think I can only take it in small doses! I need my films to say something, that is if you can read between the lines.


J: Are you able to give me a rough idea of the story?
S: Basically it is about an elderly Pak, Harun, who lives alone. He resents his son, Rosli, who left him for Sydney. Pak Harun lives all by himself in a big house in Pasir Ris with a lived-in house nurse, Murni. Feeling lonely, while still mourning after his late wife, his life becomes more unbearable as Murni's cooking is not to his taste. Murni loves to sing in the kitchen while cooking so that makes his life even more unbearable. However, as the story progresses, Murni and her cooking become instrumental in the reconciliation between Pak Harun and Rosli, and Pak Harun and Murni.


J: Is it meant to be a commercial film, featuring Malay cooking?
S: It depends on what you consider a "commercial" film. I have got the entire commercial aka a-list Singaporean Malay-speaking casts. I have the Malaysian cinema legend Rahim Razali as Pak Harun (lead). As well as Aidli Mosbit, Rafaat Hj Hamzah, Sani Hussin, J A Halim, Marina Yusoff, Ariati Tyeb Papar, Nina Halim etc... All who has their own following in the community. Not forgetting Aaron Aziz, who has made a name for himself and is HUGE in Malaysia as well. It is a good question though, you asked about the "commercial" aspect of TMI. I cannot respond to that because to be honest, I do not know. There is no commercial reference for a film in the national language.

J: So who is the audience you have in mind? Or perhaps even what countries?
S: Ultimately, this is NOT a Malay film; it is a Singaporean film. Its themes are universal. I am a Baweanese by ethnicity and realised that making films about something with familiarity is of much sincerity. This is not Channel 5 Pedro Almodovar making Spanish films and being successful universally. There has never been a Singaporean-Malay language film made in more than 30 plus years. This film speaks to the international audience based solely on its themes.


J: When did you start the pre-production start for this film and what were some of the biggest challenges faced?
S: This film has been in my head for more than 7 years. However, pre-production actually started from 3rd quarter of 2008. For the biggest challenges - where do I even start??

J: Wow, You mean the idea was planted in your head from 2002?
S: Yes, it was actually a short film. Those years allowed me to develop the characters while at the same time, reflect more upon my life experiences within the Malay community and incorporating that into the story. You can consider me as more of an outsider within the community – (you can ask my close friends about that!)
After my first short film, Lost Sole, I realised there were many interesting stories in my own community, waiting to be told. I believe the success of Lost Sole at international film festivals further made me think that there are audiences out there who are ready for the real, severely under-represented stories about my community. Moreover, coming from commercial television also gave me that fine balance between what people really want to see, and how I could tell these stories. It also allowed me to inject a little of my "cinematic sensibilities".
Many people too, asked why it took almost 10 years AFTER film school to make my first short film. Well, poor aspiring film-makers like me are busy making money to pay the bills!

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J: And the challenges faced?
S: Challenges – I have been on an emotional, physical and professional rollercoaster ride since last year and this will continue on until the film eventually premieres! I think you are aware that I have only shot 50% of the film. I STILL NEED MONEY to shoot the rest. So anyone who is reading this, please sound off if you got extra cash in your wallet, purse, piggy bank, islamic bank, etc... TMI is a very good film! (Bold for a purpose)

S: Hey, did you read what happened when I received The Best Director award for my television drama which I conceptualized myself?
J: Nope.
S: It has got a historic 18 nominations (little Nonya had only 15!!). Moreover, I was a multiple nominee in the "Best Director" Category – Don’t Pray Pray (laughs)

J: (laughs) Ok, I just found a tagline for TMI.
S: I spoke in English during the speech; I could almost hear the pin drop. I did not realise I inspired many "younger" people with my award speech - many people cried! The full speech is on my facebook notes.

J: Sure. Any last words for your film?
S: I am humbled and thankful for the support and patience from EVERYONE who believed in the project. There is still 50% left to shoot. My gift to them will be the premiere of “Ramuan Rahasia” aka “The Missing Ingredient”. I have prepared all their names and will endeavor to thank them all by mentioning each and every one.


About the Director:

Sanif Olek has become well known for developing, producing and directing successful television content of various genres. He has collaborated with Singapore’s leading production agencies with works seen by regional broadcast audiences and multinational markets and clients.. more

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